Three of the five noted rights activists held for their alleged links with the Maoists were on Thursday brought back to their homes in Mumbai and Hyderabad from Pune after the Supreme Court ordered the Maharashtra police they be kept under house arrest and not in their custody.
Alleging that the activists were being framed, Leftist poet and writer Varavara Rao, who was brought to Hyderabad by air, hit out at the Centre and the Maharashtra government, saying there cannot be a bigger conspiracy than calling those fighting against “fascist policies” conspirators.
Describing dissent as the “safety valve of democracy”, the apex court on Wednesday directed the Maharashtra police that the five activists be kept under house arrest at their homes until the next day of hearing on September 6.
Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira, were sent to Mumbai by road, said a police official in Pune.
Gonsalves reached his home in Mumbai’s Andheri suburb around 7.30 am.
His wife, advocate Susan Abraham, said, “Vernon reached home safely and we welcomed him.”
Gonsalves claimed he was being framed with fabricated letters to save those who were really responsible for the clashes between the Dalits and upper caste Marathas at an annual event near Pune.
Ferreira was taken to his home in Charai area of Mumbai’s neighbouring Thane district, an official said.
While trade unionist and lawyer Bharadwaj is confined to her home in Faridabad and civil liberties activist Navalakha to his Delhi residence, Rao, Gonsalves and Ferreira were brought to Pune on Tuesday night.
Maharashtra police on Tuesday raided the homes of prominent Left-wing activists in several states on Tuesday and made the five arrests, sparking a chorus of outraged protests from human rights defenders.
The raids were carried out as part of a probe into the violence at Koregaon-Bhima village near Pune after an event called Elgar Parishad, or conclave, on December 31 last year.
“We have our own police officers and personnel along with the local police from the respective cities, who will be deployed at their residences,” said Pune’s Assistant Commissioner of Police Shivaji Pawar, who is the investigation officer in the case.
As the three activists returned to their homes, leading intellectuals and civil society members demanded action against the Maharashtra police for launching a “vicious and malafide attack” against human rights activists and called for an immediate end to “such political acts of vendetta”.
The arrests of the five activists, in a nationwide crackdown on Tuesday, highlights the violation of all due procedures and is a mockery of the legal system, said a joint statement signed by author Arundhati Roy, lawyer Prashant Bhushan as well as activists Aruna Roy and Jignesh Mevani among others.
The statement released at a joint news conference in Delhi also demanded that police return the laptops and mobiles seized during the “illegal arrest” of the activists.
“Till elections, it will be divert and rule,” Roy said while targeting the Modi government. Lok Sabha elections are due before May next year.
Mevani accused the government of wanting to divert attention from real issue and discredit the Dalit movement.
Varavara Rao said the case in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima clashes should have been filed against the central and Maharashtra governments and not human rights activists.
“This is a false case. If the fight against fascist policies is called a conspiracy, then there cannot be a bigger conspiracy than this (calling the fight a conspiracy),” Rao told reporters at the airport in Hyderabad.
Calling the raids on prominent activists and intellectuals as an attempt by the government to strike terror among those fighting for the marginalised, Jharkhand’s civil society members, including economist Jean Dreze, demanded the immediate release of the five arrested people.
Social activist Stan Swami, whose residence was also raided on Tuesday, alleged that the government was silencing those who were working for the marginalised and voiceless sections of the society.